A recent Pew Forum survey demonstrates what appears, at first blush, to be an embarrassing lack of knowledge of things religious by Americans who claim to be religious. There are a few problems with the way this is being reported, not the least of which is the fact that believers appear to be more knowledgeable about their beliefs than non-believers, although they know less about other religions. It is this latter realization that I think may prove to be quite dangerous.
In general, for the living out of life as an Orthodox Christian, knowing that the Dalai Lama is Buddhist, or that most people in Pakistan are Muslim, serves little purpose. Surprisingly, knowing the order of books in the Bible isn’t very important either. Knowing who Moses is, or Job, and being familiar with the ten commandments, those are all very important. More importantly, knowing that Christ died for us, and rose again is important. That Martin Luther triggered the Reformation isn’t.
As I blogged about recently, there has been a growing tendency, as a result of the ecumenical movement, to believe that all religions are essentially the same. Certainly many act that way. I think there is a relationship between both the stated tendency, and this demonstration of the lack of religious knowledge. If someone, particularly someone who acts as if they are knowledgeable, that a certain item is fact, in the absence of any independent knowledge of my own, I am likely to believe them. In general, it is the job of our shepherds to guide us in these issues, much as St. Theophan the Recluse did in this work. Unfortunately, these days it is frequently the hierarchs that are engaged in much of the ecumenical behavior. So, instead of protecting the faithful, they are leading them astray. It is only a strong knowledge of our own faith, and faith of others, that will allow us to see the truth.
At our recent Greek Festival, we had a lot of great conversations with folks from other faiths at our booth. Frequently, though, we would have someone who was Roman (or in some cases Eastern) Catholic come and tell us how we were basically the same. The problem is, that we really aren’t. Superficially that may appear to be the case, but Rome has established doctrines that are at odds with the historic faith, and declared key elements of historic Orthodoxy to be, themselves, heresy. Unfortunately, many people are not sufficiently knowledgeable about their own faith to know this. They certainly aren’t knowledgeable enough about other faiths in most cases to know what the teachings actually are.
If this is truly the case, which is what the Pew survey suggests, and if the shepherds will not guide the flock any longer, how can they continue to follow the Way? Thankfully, not all of the shepherds have given up their responsibilities. There are still many holy bishops and priests to guide the faithful, and we have the tradition as found in our prayers and hymns and liturgies. We have the Monks and Nuns who have long been a source of nourishment for the Church. Finally, and most importantly, we have Christ as our head, and the Holy Spirit to guide us.
However, in this modern era, when the teachings of our Church are so readily available to those seeking them, we shouldn’t merely be content that God will protect the Church over time. As in everything else, we must be ready and willing to assist. We do this first and foremost by looking after our own education.